If there were odds set at the start of the season for which San Luis Obispo County high school football team would finish the 2012 campaign with the best record, most would pick PAC 7 stalwarts San Luis Obispo or Arroyo Grande first.
But, in fact, it was Mission Prep, the little-brother Catholic school across town from the Tigers, that brought home the top win-loss ratio in the county, finishing the season 9-1 to earn the top seed in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs.
The Royals will be joined in the postseason by two Los Padres League teams, a surprising Morro Bay squad, which travels to Inglewood, and last year’s section semifinalist Templeton, which travels to Santa Monica. Both teams are competing in the Western Division. Morro Bay’s game is at 7 p.m., and Templeton will play at 7:30 p.m.
Mission Prep will host Frazier Mountain (6-4), an at-large team from the High Desert league, at 7:30 tonight. All four Falcons losses have come against teams competing in the Northeast playoffs.
“They come from one of the toughest leagues in our section,” Royals coach Chad Henry said. “They earned their at-large bid.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Baty, who has thrown for 2,118 yards and 31 touchdowns to go with just three interceptions this year, will lead the Royals into the school’s first Southern Section playoff game in school history.
Mission Prep’s only loss came on a last-second touchdown in a 16-13 home defeat at the hands of undefeated Bishop Diego in the regular season finale.
“The first thing I talked to the guys about (after the game) is our goals for the season,” Henry said. “One, secure a playoff bid, which we were able to do with the season we had. And two, was to win a CIF championship. So with those goals, we have to move past that knowing we got our first goal accomplished and get our eyes set on that second goal.”
Baty and play-making wide receiver Joey Hall are two of the 21 seniors on Mission Prep’s roster this season, none of whom have postseason experience.
“For them, this is a huge deal,” Henry said. “It’s a big moment for the program and for the school. One thing that is gonna stick in their mind is that we didn’t have this opportunity last year. They won’t allow this to be a missed opportunity.”
Perhaps the most intriguing team in the county this season is Morro Bay. The Pirates finished 1-9 last year, and longtime head coach John Andre left the program. Assistant Jack Greer took over in what should have been a rebuilding year.
Greer turned things around faster than many expected. Morro Bay (7-3, 5-1) finished second in the Los Padres League after a 48-24 home victory over Templeton last Friday, and now the Pirates will travel to take on an Inglewood team that finished second in the Ocean League.
“It really feels great,” Greer said about his squad’s turnaround. “The team right now, over the last couple weeks, has bought in to my philosophy. That’s working hard, doing things right, and it’s paying off.”
Morro Bay will use their victory over the rival Eagles as a launching pad for the playoffs.
“(The team) looked at that as a playoff game,” Greer said. “That’s the intensity we’re going to see when we travel Friday night at Inglewood.
“Even though it’s a heated rivalry, it just helped prepare us for what we’re going to see in the first round of the playoffs.”
Inglewood runs a spread offense designed to get the ball to playmakers in space, which is the opposite of Greer’s smash-mouth, run first and run second offense.
“We can’t give up any big plays,” he said. “We need to be very disciplined and we want to deflate the ball. We need ball control to move the chains.”
Templeton (7-3, 4-2), fresh off a third-place finish in the LPL, will look to rebound as it travels to Santa Monica Friday night.
The Vikings (7-3, 5-0 Ocean) will look to open up the passing game with senior wide receiver and USC-commit Sebastian LaRue, who has 46 catches for 779 yards and eight touchdowns and nine carries for 100 yards and a touchdown this season.
“I think we need to be physical,” Eagles coach Dan Loney said. “That’s our game plan, is to come out and be as physical as possible. They’re a good team. They run the ball. If you let (LaRue) get out in the open field, its gonna be hard to stop them.”
Despite a rough end to the regular season, Templeton has the playoff experience to make some noise in the postseason.
Last year, after early struggles at the quarterback position, Alex Elterman emerged as the starter and led the Eagles to the division semifinals for the second straight season.
“I think we’re in a league that everybody knew where Lompoc was gonna end up,” Loney said. “And it was kind of a battle between everybody else. Every year is a new year, you never know where everyone is gonna end up.”